Latinos or not, dancers or not, it is quite easy to want to hit the dance floor the moment the DJ blasts the speakers with Salsa. Getting instant reaction from Latin music lovers is perhaps a trait peculiar only to Salsa dancing world. This piece of article will serve you 2 purposes:
we dedicated 1 whole section to provide you with a collection of our Salsa music playlist. This playlist is carefully picked by our DJ (also, our main writer :D). Even though we use Youtube as the source for the music, we still highly encourage you to come to stores to buy your favorite Salsa music. Or you can also buy from online stores such as Amazon, iTunes, etc. You can also subscribe to streaming music services such as Spotify, Apple Music, etc.
Why we encourage you like that? It’s simple! Any piece of music, arts, etc. have been dedicated wholeheartedly by honorable artists. Paying is the only way to show them our respects to their masterpieces, right? 🙂 The playlist will be just right below for you.
Second part is just wall of text for those who want to know more about Salsa music and some other things around Salsa dancing. Start here.
SALSA MUSIC COLLECTION PLAYLIST
COMPLETE SALSA MUSIC MINI HANDBOOK
A. Salsa music definition and its origin
In order to understand the term “Salsa”, keep in mind that it is actually used in the same context as that of the word ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’. These two are generic terms for all things Spanish and does not identify any individual culture included unless you state it specifically. In simple words, Salsa is the general term which includes many music types and cultures.
A.1 The origin
In Salsa dancing world, there is a lot of debate concerning where Salsa was born. While one school of thought claims that it is a modern version of the classic Afro Cuban rhythms and forms, some others claim that originated in the 1960s in New York City. Other old school Latin musicians believed there is no such music as Salsa. Here is a commonly accepted and more feasible version of its origin.
- “Salsa” was coined during the mid to early 70s when The Fania All Stars emerged. This was an All Star band consisting of top artists in their specialized instruments; bongo by Roberto Roena, conga by Ray Barreto, bass by Bobby Valentine and piano by Larry Harlow. They formed the heart of the band. The brass also included Willie Colon playing the trombone along with several others playing the ‘saucy’ brass. It has had popular singers like Pete El Conde Rodriquez, Adalberto Santiago, Cheo Feliciano, Justo Bentancourt, and Hector Lavoe. All these Salsa music artists are Legends in their own right. Since it was a band representing different musical backgrounds and cultures, they introduced the term Salsa and used it as a successful marketing tool.
Salsa music definition is, therefore, a general term for all Latin dance music combined together. It includes a little bit of old fashioned Puerto Rican, Cuban and New York style Mambo, Afro Cuban rumba, Cha-Cha-Cha, and Charanga Salsa dancing styles. They created the term Salsa to generalize all these varying cultures and music types into one word.
Different tempos and patterns of rhythm will define what kind of vibe you will do your Salsa dancing when you hear any Salsa song. The ones with a Mambo influence will be really fast, brassy and will have a strict pattern. Charanga influences will have a medium tempo, beats marked by guiro with a small cowbell. The Salsa with Afro-Cuban influence will be distinguished by heavy percussion and clave. The Cha-Cha-Cha is probably the easiest to identify with its unique rhythm pattern and sound in Salsa dancing.
A.2 Salsa through the years
A.2.1 The 1960s
- During the early 1960s, the Salsa music scene in New York was influenced by Cuban fads like charanga and pachanga. Popular Salsa music artists of that time were Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. There was a decline in the Cuban American contact which paved the way for a bigger influence from the Puerto Ricans in the Latin music and Salsa dancing scene in New York. A cultural identity of hybrid Nuyorican emerged during this time with a dominant Puerto Rican influence in addition to a close contact with the African Americans.
- However, it is said that modern Salsa grew in the New York City streets during the late 1960s. During this time, Latin America lost its influence in the popular music scene in America. A white youth joined the counterculture during the end of the 1960s. It associated itself political activism with the formation of radical organizations. The Latino community in New York was also inspired by this movement and rejected any form of assimilation. The result was an artistic creativity which had a musical aspect based on the popular Cuban son. The Salsa dancing center during the early years of the 1970s moved to the Cheetah and Manhattan where many stars were introduced by Ralph Mercado who was the promoter of that time.
- The legendary recording company Fania records were based in Manhattan, and it introduced several top leading first generation Salsa music artists to the entire world to see. It was founded by Dominican impresario Jerry Masucci and band leader and flautist Johnny Pacheco. The illustrious career of the recording company began with “El Malo” by Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon in the year 1967.
- A series of updated plena tunes and son montuno followed this hit which eventually evolved into the modern day Salsa music by 1973. After forming the band Fania All Stars in the year 1971, it released a string of hits which were mostly plena and son.
A.2.2 The 1970s
- This New York style of Salsa expanded quickly to Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other Latin countries. This newly formed style represented the symbol for their cultural identity and pride among the Puerto Ricans and Latinos all alike in Salsa dancing scene.
- There was now a dramatic increase in the number of the Salsa bands during the 1970s both in New York and otherwise. It was the same with the Salsa oriented record labels and radio stations.
- Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri were popular performers who adapted the format of Salsa and were joined by the likes of Ruben Blades and Willie Colon who were more traditional singers of the authentic kind.
- Blades and Colon collaborated a lot during the 1970s all through the 80s, turning them into two of the most popularly and critically acclaimed Salsa music artists of the entire world.
- What set them apart was their unique form of lyricism. Colon was known for composing socio political and potent vignettes while Blades often came to be considered as the mouth piece representing the oppressed section of the Latin Americans.
- Their album called Siembra released in 1978 is today considered as one of the best-selling albums in the history of Latin music and Salsa dancing scene.
- The 1970s also saw several types of musical innovations from some of the best Salsa music artists. Willie Colon introduced cuatro which is the rural guitar of Puerto Rico along with rock, jazz, Brazilian music and Panamanian. Salsa music was modernized with the electric piano by Larry Harlow who arranged the Fania records.
- The Salsa leadership of Fania records weakened by the decade’s end with the arrival of the RMM and TH Rodven records.
- Salsa slowly came to be considered as ‘contaminated’ by disco and fusion. It also borrowed elements from the disparate style which includes ‘go go’ and techno, hip hop, etc. which won over many young Latinos in Salsa dancing community.
A.2.3 The 1980s
- The 1980s was all about diversification where popular Salsa music evolved into smooth and sweet Salsa romantica. It’s lyrics dwelled on romance and love. The Salsa erotica was its explicit cousin.
- Salsa romantica was born in 1984 to Noches Calientes, an album by Salsa music artists Louie Ramirez and Jose Alberto. It gave way to a wave of romantica singers who were mostly Puerto Ricans.
- It was characterized by the romantic lyrics and laid emphasis more on the melody than on the rhythm. It also used chord changes and precussion breaks.
- It was also during the 1980s that some performers started experimenting by combining different elements of hip hop music with Salsa. It was pianist and producer Sergio George who played a big role in reviving the commercial success of Salsa in the market.
- Sergio George created a unique form of sound that was based on prominent rootsy and trombones, which was a style inspired by Mambo.
- He also worked a lot with Orquesta Dela Luz which was a Japanese Salsa music band. He is also credited for the development of an orchestra studio which includes some of the legendary Salsa music artists of all times like those of Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, La India, Jose Alberto, Celia Cruz, and Victor Manuelle.
- Joe Arroyo was a Colombian music singer who rose to popularity in the music industry during the 1970s. however, by the 1980s, he was known more like one of the most renowned exponents of the Colombian Salsa.
- It was an outcome of years of work by Arroyo with Fruko, the Colombian arranger and his band called by the name of Los Tesos.
- The 1970s in Latin America saw a spread of Salsa in all places. It was especially so in Colombia which marked the rise of a new generation of Salsa music performers which began the work of combining Salsa with different elements of vallenato and cumbia.
A.2.4 The 1990s
- Cuban Salsa music began to get more prominence only during the 1990s. It was especially distinct in subgenres like timba.
- Bands like Los Van Van, Charanga Habanera and NG Labanda developed timba with the use of the songo, a complex rhythm. It also developed other styles like those of the songo Salsa music which has really swift rapping in Spanish.
- Sergio George appropriated the popular rapping in the songo Salsa. It can also be seen in his work trio dark which is a Latin Groove and is known for breathing fire into the songo rhythms.
- Throughout the years during the 1990s, Salsa remained as a popular part of Colombian music. It produced bands like the Sonora Carruseles. While other Salsa music artists like Carlos Vives developed his own unique style which fuses vallenato and rock with Salsa.
- The popularization of the vallenato Salsa by Carlos Vives led to the use of this accordion led style of vallenato by mainstream commercial pop stars like those of Gloria Estefan.
- In Colombia, its city of Cali came to be popularly known as Salsa dancing capital of the entire world for producing legendary groups like Grupo Niche and Orquesta Guayacan.
- Salsa music today has come to dominate the airwaves in so many Latin American countries. Several Salsa music artists like the Cuban American Salsa singer Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Rey Ruiz have also successfully crossovered and penetrated the pop market in Anglo America with its Latin tinged hits mostly sung in English.
- Some of the latest innovation in this genre includes hybrids like those of Salsaton, Salsa meringue, Salsa gorda and meren house.
- The African music artists have also become very active by the middle of the 1990s through their super Africando groups. It is a mix of New York and African musicians with some of the most influential African singers like those of Salif Keita, Ismael Lo, Ricardo Lemvo and Bambino Diabate.
B. What with the names?
B.1 The term
The word Salsa in Spanish language means sauce. In the same way, it refers to the spiciness which is quite common in most of the Caribbean and Latin cuisine. It was only during the recent years that the word Salsa came to have a musical connotation both in the Spanish and the English languages. In this context, the term is now used to describe any vivid association with not kind of absolute definition. It is a term that covers a wide variety of assortments when it comes to Latin styles and rhythms. It takes on a different hue depending on which part of the Spanish world you stand on. It is highly debatable to be able to come to a precise scope of Salsa. Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants who live in New York have used this term Salsa analogously to soul or swing which refers to a characteristic of culturally and emotionally genuine music which was common in the African American community. In this sense, Salsa caries the connotation of a “spicy”, wild and frenzied musical experience which reflects or draws upon elements found in Latin culture irrespective of the style that is used in Salsa dancing scene.
B.2 How it came about
There are so many historians and music writers who have traced the usage of the term Salsa to the 20th century, during different time periods and Salsa dancing generations.
- According to the claims made by the international music author called Sue Steward, she says that the term Salsa was initially used in any kind of music as a kind of appreciation shouted when any particular flashy solo or piquant was played or performed. She also goes on to narrate that the first use in this way was by Phidias Danilo Escalona who was a popular Venezuelan Dj at a radio station.
- Again, another person called Max Salazar traces the use of the term Salsa to the early 1930s when the song “Echale Salsita” was composed by Ignacio Pinerio, which was a dance form that protested against tasteless food. While Salazar claims that this song marked the origin of the meaning that “Salsa” today carries (Latin music that is danceable), Ed Morales the author says that the term was used as a forming signal that was shouted by Pineiro to his band members to increase the music tempo so they can put the dancers to a higher gear.
- Ed Morales also claims that during the late 1930s, Beny More the vocalist would shout the word Salsa during a live performance to acknowledge the heat of the musical moment and to express some sort of nationalistic and cultural sloganeering and also to celebrate the ‘spiciness’ and ‘hotness’ of the cultures across Latin America and Salsa dancing scene.
B.3 Reaction to the name
There are some people who claim that the use of the term Salsa in music is quite misleading and vague. For instance, musicians like those of Tito Puente who music evolved decades before the introduction of Salsa as a genre claimed that he plays Cuban music and that the only Salsa that he is aware of comes inside of a bottle. Since Salsa refers to so many different styles of music, there are many people who also observe that Salsa was used more as a marketing term in order to be able to categorize misc superficially in a way that is appealing to the non aficionados. At one point in time, the media of Cuban state even claimed officially that the word Salsa in music was used to describe the original Cuban music which was stolen by the American imperialists. However, this theory has since been abandoned by the media.
B.4 The new and the old!
There are still more people who still doubt as to whether the term Salsa represents any unambiguous and precise meaning. To Peter Manuel, Salsa is both a modern day marketing tool as well as a cultural voice of the modern generation. It represents the crystallization of the identity of the Latinos in New York City during the early years of the 1960s. He also acknowledges the cultural and the commercial dichotomy that the term Salsa carries in music. He notes that the broad use of the term in many different styles of the Latino pop music successfully served to develop the “pan Latin Solidarity”. Peter Manuel also says that it is rather recycling of the original Cuban music under an obscurantist and artificial label, but it is more of a North American commoditization and exploitation of the primary products of the third world countries.
B.5 Salsa BEFORE Salsa!
Ruben Blades, the singer once made the claim that the term Salsa is actually just a concept and not a definite rhythm or style as many people seem to think. There are some musicians who are still doubtful as to the fact that Salsa as a term has any meaning that is useful. Machito, the band leader, confirmed to this belief by saying that Salsa music was practically what he and his band had been playing for a period of more than forty years even before the style was first invented. Musician Tito Puente also once responded in an interview regarding Salsa that he was a musician and not a cook (referring to the original use of Salsa as a sauce rather than music.) a popular Salsa singer of her time Celia Cruz has said that Salsa is actually just another name for Cuban music. It includes all Cuban rhythms like son, rumba, chachacha, mambo, etc.
B.6 Yet another theory!
- Peter Manuel, the music writer, claims that the term Salsa describes a definite style of music that came about in the middle of the 1970s. It was when a bunch of Latin musicians based in New York began to overhaul their big band classic arrangements that were popular ever since the 1940 and 1950 mambo era. His claim is that it was during the late 1960s that the term Salsa was popularized by Jerry Masucci from Fania records and a radio station in Venezuela.
- Ed Morale’s claim, on the other hand, contrasts to this. He cites that the Salsa was used to describe a certain style by Izzy Sanabria who was a graphic designer and editor in New York City. Ed Morale also further mentions that one of the earliest uses of the term was by a Dominican performer called Johnny Pacheco who released an album called the Salsa Na Ma in 1962 which is translated by Morales as “it only needs a little spice or Salsa”.
- Radio DJs and bandleaders would start shouting “Salsa” when any lively and spicy music was played. Bandleaders usually shouted the word to energize the audience every time they started a new song. No one really knows who started this trend but whoever started was probably only trying to liven up the audience and make them dance. Towards the end of the 60s, any lively music and Salsa become interchangeable. Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon could be referred to as the earliest Salsa music artists because they made this genre internationally recognizable.
B.7 Bridging the gap
For the Latinos, the term Salsa actually bridges the gap that lies between the traditional and the modern, between their native homeland and the dominating United States of America, between life in the streets and the posh night life, and finally between their culture at the grassroots and the corporate world.
B.8 Salsa and its music essence
Salsa being a generic term, it defies any strict definition. It is a musical contribution of artists from South America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Afro Cuban, and New York. It is a mixture, fusion and evolution of the native musical forms and rhythms of all these cultures.
This musical hybridization is not a one way street because the musicians went back to their own native places and continued to evolve it further. It evolved differently in each of the places, because of which today we have a variety of Colombian Salsa, Puerto Rican Salsa and Cuban Salsa. Each of these styles has an electric and driving energy yet its own distinctive native sounds which are the hallmark of Salsa music.
B.9 Salsa and son
The Salsa and son share a lot of similarities when it comes to the composition. However, they also have their own distinct features in the sense that the Salsa music is an estribillo or a montuno having a really fast rhythm while the son is more of an expressive song. Salsa has two sections – the first section is known as the body in the song and the second section is known as the montuno just like in the son. The chorus and the solo vocalist usually alternate the phrases when they reach the montuno section.
C. What is it that distinguishes Salsa as a genre?
Traditionally, Salsa music has a signature 4/4 time. Mostly, it is phrased in two bar groups (eight beats) like the recurring patterns of rhythm and chorus has main phrases to it. Typically, the percussion instruments create really complicated rhythmic patterns overall. And it is played with several kinds of differing patterns simultaneously.
C.1 The Clave
The most distinctive trait is the clave which is the basic rhythm and the foundation: all kinds of Salsa dancing and music is governed by the rhythm of the clave. It has a kind of two measure beat in a 4/4 time of the 1-2-3 and 1-2. The resultant effect is a catchy pattern that alternates between weak and strong measures. This in turn gives birth to a driving, pulsating sensation which is why the music is generally so danceable.
Popular Salsa music is usually associated with two different kinds of clave patterns which are the rumba clave and the son clave. The 6/8 clave is another style of clave which came about in a wide variety of styles associated with the sacred music of West Africa.
Salsa music is basically built around clave and complex rhythms are added with the use of the bongos, bells, bass, timbales, congas, etc.
C.2 Salsa at work
- Generally, instrumentalists do not follow the exact rhythm of the clave, except for when they use their percussion instrument called the claves. In most of the cases, the function of the clave rhythm is to form the basis for the singers and instrumentalists to use as a common ground for rhythm when producing their own versions of musical phrases. They usually emphasize the difference that lies between the two halves present in the clave rhythm with eight beats. For instance, in the 2-3 clave, a long phrase of eight beats will have, the first half of the phrase has straighter notes which are directly played on the beat. The four beats at the last also contain three clave strikes that are long and an off beat in the second strike between the two and three beats.
- Most of the Salsa songs start with the popular one clave and later on switches to a reverse midway through the song. All this is done without restarting the rhythm of the clave. The rhythm is then shifted to four beats by the use of stop time and breaks in Salsa dancing.
C.3 Percussion instruments
There are standardized patterns in some of the percussion instruments which reoccur in a majority of the Salsa music with very little variations.
Salsa music uses heavy percussion instruments like the maracas, clave, cowbell, bato, tambora, bongo, and conga. Other popular Salsa music instruments also consist of saxophone and trumpet, a brass and flute section of the trombone, accordion, piano, violin, guitar, bass, marimba, and vibraphone. Of late, modern Salsa has popularly added the effect of electronics to the entire mix.
D. All about the clave
The clave relates to drumming in Salsa music, and it forms a rhythmic pattern. Pronounced as Klah-Vay, there are multiple meanings associated with this term. Unfortunately, it is quite a mystery. The clave is wildly popular in Afro Cuban and Latin music (all under the umbrella Salsa) so much so that it forms the foundation of almost all of their music. Samba, Bossa Nova, Salsa, Somba, etc. are all built around clave.
The word Clave is literally translated as “Key” in Spanish. Therefore to put it in other words, clave forms the key to Salsa music. As mentioned above, there are two meanings associated with this term. The first meaning is that clave is a musical instrument. It is two simple blocks made of wood which are struck together to create a rhythm typical of Latin music. The second meaning is a rhythmic pattern of two bars. It is the most commonly used meaning of the term and is “key” to adding that “Latin spice” to drum beats.
D.2 The direction of the clave
The clave has a pattern of two bars which the musician can play in two different ways. This pattern has 5 notes, and it can be played either in 3-2 or in 2-3. This results in 2 beats being played during the first bar while the 3 beats are played during the second bar. It can also be reversed for a 3-2. Both directions are great, and they give its own distinct feel different from one another. The clave has different types of varieties, and all of it are quite similar (like the 2-3 or 3-2), but there are variations in the way they are played. Each of the clave versions has its own distinct place in different Salsa music.
Here are the different clave rhythm types:
- Son Clave
- Rhumba clave
- 6/8 clave
- Bossa Nova Clave
D.2.1 Son clave
The son clave is one of the most common clave rhythms in Salsa. It has eight long beats, and it can be played in either 3-2 or 2-3 style. The 2-3 style has three clave strikes present in the second half of its eight beats and two in the first. The 3-2, on the other hand, has its halves totally reversed.
D.2.2 Rhumba clave
The rhumba clave is the other important clave next to son clave. You will find that this pattern is the key in almost all of Cuban Rumba. Rumba is also referred to as Columbia, and it is musically and culturally connected to the abakua. Abakua is the Afro Cuban cabildo descended from Kalabari. Columbia or rumba uses this type of pattern. Here triple pulse strokes are easily replaced by duple pulse strokes. The regular use of the rumba clave for the first time in Cuban music started with Mozambique which was created in the 1960s by Pello El Afrokan.
D.2.3 6/8 clave
The 6/8 clave is the original style of the clave. Most of the musicians play it with either the 2/3 pattern or the 3/2 pattern. This rhythm in most of the Salsa music is a replication of the bembe which is an Afro Cuban rhythm. The triple pause is not so common in Cuban music, but it is quite the opposite in other styles of Salsa especially the ones with the African influence. The 6/8 pattern can be quite commonly found in the rumba style which is also referred to as Columbia. Here the rumba 6/8 pattern is usually played in claves.
D.2.4 Bossa Nova clave
The Bossa Nova Clave is a highly popular pattern from the popular Salsa clave family. Musicians use this pattern in all kinds of Salsa, Bossa Nova, etc. Its main attention, however, is in the actual style of Bossa Nova. It is quite similar to the Son Clave in the sense that it consists of 5 beats with a pattern of 2 bars. This beat can be played in two different ways – 3/2 and 2/3.
E. Other instruments/patterns than clave?
This is a pattern commonly played on the timbale sides. But you can also play it along with a variety of cymbal, woodblock, or bells. A very distinctive characteristic of this type of a pattern is visible in the dominant accent at two of 2 side. It is played lightly on 3 side, and a strong hit immediately follows it on and off.
E.2 Timbal bell
This is a pattern played mainly on the bell that is mounted along with timbales, bell / handheld campana or the cymbal. Besides some variations, it has a dominant strong two.
Practice by tapping the clave in one hand and these patterns on the other. Elevate your practice by tapping one and three pulse with one foot. It may take a while to learn this, but once this pattern is mastered, the clave rhythm comes automatically.
E.3 Bongo bell (2-3 pattern)
The bongocero or the bongo player plays the drums when the verse is played and then shifts to playing the bell in the solos and the choruses. You will find this pattern in the bongo bell.
Near the bell’s mouth, the players play the more accented hits while holding the bell in the more relaxed way to make sure the sound resonates. The bell’s body is where the player gives the other hits. When giving these hits, the player muffles the bell with one hand in order to produce a less sustained and a higher tone. If you were to make the sound with your voice, it would come out as “DONG di di DONG dit”.
E.4 Tumbao (2-3 pattern)
The conga drummer plays this tumbao pattern. In any Salsa band, the conguero is a true Salsa music artist for his prodigious technique to be able to produce a wide variety of tones by simply using the heads of the drum. There is a very simplified way to notate this pattern – highlighting the accented hits that are most noticeable in in Salsa dancing songs. If you were to make the sound with your voice, it would come out as “ta ka DU DU ta DU…”
E.5 Montuno (2-3 pattern)
Also known as the guajeo, the montuno has an arpeggiated pattern that is busy. It is either played by the tres player, the guitarist or the piano player. Rhythmically, it is very typical of the pattern here is quite simple.
Montuno playing is filled with syncopation and variation. It is characterized by the clear clave in the purest form, and it is only on the 2 side that it has downbeats. In the pattern, most of the notes are offbeat besides the two in the first part, and it hits one and two only on its 2 sides.
The start of its 2 side bar is when the piano plays in one.
F. The rhythm
Traditionally, the Salsa music is based on the 4/4 time signature. It is phrased into groups consisting of eight beats (two bars) most of the time. An example of this would be the recurring patterns of rhythm and the main phrases that are present in the chorus. The entire patterns of rhythm that are typically played with the help of the percussion musical instruments are quite complicated and different kinds of patterns are simultaneously played. Since the foundation of all Salsa music is formed on the rhythm of the clave, it governs almost all Salsa music in rhythm.
F.1 The clave rhythm
Generally, a majority of the instrumentalists do not play out the clave rhythm in the exact manner of beats except when they use the musical percussion instrument which is also called as claves. In most of the cases, the simply function of the clave rhythm is to give a basis for Salsa music artists to give the base of their rhythmic ground from which grows their musical phrases.
F.2 The beat
Players of Salsa music instruments generally emphasize the difference that lies between the two halves from the rhythm of eight beat clave. For instance, in a long phrase of eight beats which is used in a context of 2-3 clave, a straighter note is given to the phrase in the first half. These notes are directly played on the beat. As for the phrase in the second half, it has notes containing longer durations and the feel it gives is more of an off beat. This gives the emphasis that the four beats in the first part of the son clave 2-3 have two different “short” strikes which are on beat directly. As for the four beats at the last, it has three different “long” strikes of the clave. Here the strike at the second part is placed in an off beat right between the beats three and two.
F.3 Common rhythms
Commonly, most of the Salsa songs being with just one clave and later on switches to a reverse halfway in the song. This is done without starting the rhythm of the clave all over again. Instead, there is a shift in the rhythm to four beats with the use of stop time and breaks in Salsa dancing.
There are some musical percussion instruments which offer standardized patterns which occur in a majority of the Salsa songs with light variations. For instance, the cascara is a very common pattern of rhythm which is based on the popular 2-3 clave. Musicians commonly play it on the timbale shells when the verse or any other less energetic part of the song is played in Salsa dancing.
G. Dancing to Salsa music
Where there is Salsa music, there simply must be Salsa dancing. The two are almost inseparable so much so that the two go hand in hand. It doesn’t matter if you are playing your Salsa music fast or slow – there is a Salsa dancing variation for every pace!
Despite its murky origins from Latin countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba along with it rich music background, Salsa dancing is quintessentially Mexican. Even so, it is massively popular as a dance form in many clubs and bars across Mexico. Here is a simplified run down of tip and tricks on how to do some Salsa dancing like a true Mexican.
G.1 Salsa dancing: The basic first
Before you hit a Salsa club, invest some time to learn the basic steps which are commonly used in almost all variations of Salsa dancing. Learn the movement of six steps over a music of eight beats. You can do it either from backwards to forwards or side to side. This goes well with any Salsa dancing scenario irrespective of whether the music is fast or slow.
G.2 Different variations of Salsa dancing
Besides the basics, there are so many different types of Salsa dancing that wildly vary from one style to another. Some of them are difficult for the beginners. For example, Cuban Salsa dancing can look a little daunting for the first timers because it has a very complex feel to it with the fast paced movements. New York Salsa dancing, on the other hand, does not circle around like the other style of Latin American dancing. In this Salsa dancing style, the dancers are facing each other most of the time. There are a lot more variations besides the two Salsa dancing styles, and it is quite difficult for the newbie to master because Salsa dancing is quite a complex dance.
G.3 Salsa dancing is more than the steps
In general, Salsa dancing is more about getting yourself swept up in the feel of the music. It is more about instinctively following the rhythm and swaying in sync with your partner (both for the male and for the female). In case the worst comes to worst, and you are at a loss about figuring out your footwork, do not despair. The truth is that Salsa dancing has less to do with set patterns and learned steps. It is more about letting the energetic music lead you and sway you. At the end of the day, Salsa dancing is less about perfect execution and more about the experience and whether you are having a great time or not.
H. Salsa music and instruments
There is such a variety of songs that Salsa bands play. It includes music pieces based on merengue, vallenato, cumbia, plenas and bombas. However, most of the songs are the modern day versions of the traditional Cuban son. Just like the son, most of the Salsa songs start with a section which is a song like and then it is followed by the montuno break with vocals in the call and response mode, jazzy solos and instrumental breaks.
Salsa percussion is one of the most vital instrumentations, and it is played using different kinds of instruments which includes conga, timbales, cowbells and claves. Besides the percussion, different kinds of melodic instruments are also used mostly for the purpose of accompaniment like the piano, trombones, trumpets, guitar and so on and so forth. It depends on the style and taste of the artists performing.
H.1 Salsa music instruments and its band members
A band will typically have about a dozen people and one of the members will act as the band leader and will direct the music which they play. Two to four band members usually play the horns while there will be one to two choral singers along with the timbales, piano, bass guitar, conga and bongo players. Usually, the vocalist also plays the guiro, clave or maracas. Usually, the bongocero also switches itself to a bell which is also known as the bongo bell ( or campana ) when playing the montuno in a song. When it comes to horns, it is typically in the form of two to four trumpets. In most cases, it is two trumpets accompanied by at least a trombone or a saxophone.
H.2 Popular salsa instruments defined
Here is a description of the most commonly played Salsa music instruments:
Bongos are also called Bongocitos. It is a pair of round shaped drums. Players hold it in their knees and strike it with their hand. This instrument is an important part of Rumba, Conga and similar Latin rhythmic forms. It is quite common in all types of Cuban rhythms.
Botijuela was originally a bottle for storing oil. The original Son bands used it as bass. Older Cubans referred to it as the “bunga”. To create the right sound, musicians used to support the neck with their right hand while holding the bottle with the left hand and blew inside the hole from its side.
Claves are used to maintain the rhythm of the song and acted as a guide to the dancers’ feet. It was considered a true form of art to be able to play the claves because it formed the base to all the danceable rhythms in Salsa dancing.
The Conga Drum is also known as the Cuban Tumbadora. It is made from the shell of an elongated wood. It is played by striking the drums with the palms of the hands. The Conga Drum is essential to all kinds of Latin rhythm especially Afro Cuban rhythms because it gives a distinctive force of rhythm like that of the double bass in an orchestra. It is called conga drum because it is indispensable to all conga rhythms.
Also known as the Cencerro, the cowbell is played by holding it in one hand while striking it with a stick. The cowbell is very important in Congas and Rumbas, but it is not preferred in Boleros or such types of smooth rhythms. It guides the other rhythm creating instruments also controls it. The term cowbell is mostly used in the United States because it is commonly worn by the cows.
The Guiro is made from the shell of a big dried gourd. The musician plays it by scraping with a stick. Like most instruments played in Cuban rhythms, the Guiro is played alongside the striking of a clave. It requires true art to master playing it at the exact moments as required by the music. Boleros do not use this instrument.
The Quijada is a primitive instrument that produces primitive musical rhythms. It is usually made from the jawbones (upper and lower) of a donkey. It follows the rhythm produced by the clave by striking together the teeth in the jawbones. This musical instrument is used only in playing strong rhythms. It is popularly played to accompany the congas and rumba rhythms because it gives a touch of special flavor to the music. It is a typical African musical instrument, and it is called quijada. “Jawbone” is a common term in Louisiana.
Timbales are skin drums in pairs. The two drums have its own distinct size. It is played with a pair of sticks. Timbales are very important in Latin America, especially in most Cuban music and are used popularly as rhythmic instruments. It gives life to guarachas, rumbas and other such rhythms which has a distinct mark of Cuban music style to it.
Salsa is essentially a dance music form. Hence there is little when it comes to the lyrics in most of the songs. The most you will get is simple words and common exhortations for people to dance. Most of the modern day pop Salsa dancing songs are often romantica or erotica. Some of the best Salsa songs under the romantica category are partially defined by lovelorn, sentimental lyrics. The erotica songs are largely defined by lyrics that are sexually explicit.
I.1 Lyrical experimentation
Salsa music also has a very long history of experimentation in its lyrics. Salsa music artists like Ruben Blades have been known for using incisive lyrics that covered topics from environmentalism to disarmament and even imperialism. Most of the vocalists in the band are expected to improvise the lyrics when singing the verses and even during instrumental solos. There are also references to religions like Afro Catholicism like that of Santeria which is also proclaimed practitioners of the popular Afro Catholic religion.
Political and social activist compositions like “La Libertad Logico” by Eddie Palmieri become Puerto Rican and Latin anthems. As a matter of fact, a majority of the Salsa songs came to reflect nationalistic themes which were centered around their sense of loyalty and pride in their identity as black Latinos, English, Spanish and Spanglish (which is a mixture of English and Spanish).
I.2 In a nutshell
To put it in a nutshell, you can say that Salsa lyricism range from politically radical topics to sentimental romantica numbers and simple Salsa dancing songs with little to no lyrical innovation. Leading musical authors like Isabelle Leymarie has noted that often Salsa music artists incorporated machoistic bravado in their song lyrics which were similar to and reminisced the samba and calypso. She ascribes this theme to the humble backgrounds of the musical performers and also the subsequent need for compensating their origins.
From Isabelle Leymarie, Salsa music is essentially an affirmation of the pride and the identity of the Latin man. Manly challenges (desafio) and taunts also formed a traditional practice of the Salsa music as an extended form of the macho stance in the music.
J. Salsa enters mainstream
Salsa music exploded into mainstream music after the unexpected death of Selena the Tex Mex singer in the 1990s out of the Corpus Christi of Texas. During these years, Salsa came to be referred more as Latin pop music. Artists like Jenniffer Lopez (J Lo), Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Ricky Martin have taken this modern genre of Salsa pop music to a whole new level of heights. Within this genre, Salsa was mixed with other genres like rock en espanol, meringue and cumbia creating different variations.
The latest Salsa pop music lyrics such as the ones in the style of Reggaeton resembled more of hip hop lyrics than the original Salsa. Reggaeton genre is itself a musical blend of hip hop, reggae, plena or bomba. Sometimes the artists even incorporate in their songs the rapping of the lyrics. Just like hip hop, the modern Salsa music lyrics is criticized a lot for being too degrading to the women folk, sexually explicit in nature and violent.
J.2 Modern Salsa lyrics in general
However, it is an utter mistake to actually lump all of the modern day Salsa music lyrics into just one category like this because a majority of the other genre do not share similar kind of content. Common themes of the modern day Salsa music lyrics touch on subjects such as anecdotes, partying, dancing, life problems, love lyrics and just cultural stories in general.
K. The battle of the Salsa!
Which Salsa music style drives you right to the dance floor the moment it hits your ears?
Which of the Salsa artists make your party blood heat up in a tropical fervor?
Let us explore all the different Latino music styles that are categorized under the large umbrella term as “Salsa” to get the answer. By coming to a definite answer, you will have a better chance at selecting the right album from over hundreds of different choices available in the market for your Salsa dancing experience.
K.1 The Fania Years – Classic Salsa
K.1.1 The Originals
Fania was the record label that represented the ‘Motown’ of Salsa. Leading Salsa music artists Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci form this record label during the late 1960s. This label succeeded in signing so many great artists of Salsa of their time which includes the likes of Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, etc. Fania was so successful during those years that it was almost single handedly managed to monopolize the commercial market completely. As the record label and the artists under it increased in number and became more and more successful, they overshadowed a majority of the smaller Salsa record labels. It was so successful that almost every one of the Salsa artist of significance joined Fania over time. This was the classic and original Salsa style. This was the style to which almost all of the new Salsa bands and artists are compared to and contrasted.
K.1.2 The End of An Era
Fania faded with the fading of it hit Salsa stars. But it was only after the death of Masucci back in the year 1997 when the catalogue of the Fania label was sent packing to the bidding block. Emusica Entertainment Group based in Miami purchased the label. The catalogue is now under the process of getting re-mastered to be released back to classic Salsa dancing fans who will get the opportunity to enjoy their favorite songs all rejuvenated with the help of modern day digital technology.
K.2 Salsa Romantica
K.2.1 The Transition
The middle of the 1980 gave way to a more commercial and softer style of Salsa popularly termed as the Salsa romantic. This was a time when the classic Salsa along with Fania was waning in popularity. This new form of style took its cue from those popular and rising Latin rock and pop music. Salsa romantic took the musical improvisation from these genres and softened the orchestra punch that was so predominant and give its focus on ballads in order to slow down the rhythm of the Salsa. They soon replaced social commentary with romantic love songs.
K.2.2 Salsa Romantica then and now
Some of the earliest Salsa romantica artists that were a rage among fans included the likes of Luis Enrique, Lalo Rodriguez, Frankia Ruiz and Eddie Santiago. As a matter of fact, some of the modern day Salsa artists like Tito Nieves, India, Marc Anthony and Gilberto Santa Rosa still borrow this style.
K.2.3 The Revamp
Some of the Salsa romantic detractors have termed this style as ‘limp’ Salsa or Salsa monga. However, having run a course of 20 years or so, this straight romantica Salsa style soon lost its commercial appeal to music lovers. Today, we can see some Salsa romantica artists heating up and revamping their ballad style Salsa. In 2005, ‘Autentico’ by Gilberto Santa Rosa featured an orchestra which had a punch that was stronger than usual. It had a brass section which insisted for attention and welcomed back the improvisation. ‘Libre’ by Marc Anthony was a unique and personal blend of classic Salsa and the ballad.
There are still other artists of Salsa romantica who pay attention to reggaeton. In 2006, ‘Soy Diferente’ by India incorporated both the reggaeton and Salsa romantic fused numbers, and Andy Montanez was inspired to do the same in his song Salsa con Reggaeton.
K.3 Salsa Dura
Salsa dura is another word for ‘hard’ Salsa while Salsa gorda is another word for ‘fat’ Salsa. Both the terms are commonly used for describing the Salsa which retains all the basic features found in a classic Salsa like socially conscious lyrics, ‘montuno’ sections, call and response and rhythms.
K.3.1 Salsa Dura Across Different Countries
Salsa dura is also the musical bunny EverReady battery which keeps going on and on, with blaring brass and musical breaks which are all perfect for any Salsa dancing. While Salsa de puerto rico focused on the Salsa romantica, the Colombian Salsa turned into a bastion of its own style version of the Salsa dura even through the Salsa deficient years and still remains the same today. Due to this Colombia still boasts of some of the most mature and the finest Salsa dura bands in the entire world today. With leading groups like Fruko Y Sus Tesos, Joe Arroyo, Sonora Carruseles and Grupo Niche, Colombia clearly has a claim to be called the Salsa dura capital of the entire world.
K.3.2 The Big Comeback
There is also a marked interest in Salsa dura the young salseros of New York for the past few years. La Excelencia, Wayne Gorbea and Jimmy Bosch are fast becoming highly instrumental in the popularity and rise of Salsa dura across the world while the big Salsa music bands from the Fania years have been perfected by Harlem Orchestra from Spain.
Here are some of the best Salsa dancing songs of all the three styles. Listen and see which Salsa style spices up your spirits!
Albums from Classic Salsa:
- Siembra (year 1978 / 2006) by Ruben Blades / Willie Colon
- La Voz (year 1999) by Hector Lavoe
Albums from Salsa Romantica:
- Marc Anthony (year 1999) by Marc Anthony
- Travesia (year 2004) by Victor Manuelle
- Romantico (year 2001) by Gilberto Santa Rosa
- Palladium VOl 1 Series Live (year 2001) by Tito Nieves
Albums from Salsa Dura:
- Imaginacion (year 2004) by Grupo Niche
- Heavy Salsa (year 1999) by Sonora Carruseles
- Salsa Dura (1999) by Jimmy Bosch
L. Fun facts about Salsa music
- Salsa music has a 4/4 time signature
- Clave rhythms form the rhythmic foundations in Salsa music which is usually produced by claves
- It has a rhythmic and melodic syncopation
- Its harmony is always simple based on repetition of chorus patterns, commonly played in minor key
- It uses the call and response in vocals. The lead singer calls (sings a line) and the band responds (answered in chorus)
- It has a common structure of simpler melodies which is followed by a coro (sections that are improvised)
- Lyrics are based on everyday life and love
- The three most famous Salsa styles today are Casino (Cuban Salsa), On1 (Los Angeles style) and Mambo On2 (New York Style)
- The history of Salsa spans over 90 years ridden with evolutionary paths and sometimes splits into political and social influences
- The widely recommended Salsa music for Salsa dancing ranges from 150 bpm (beats per minute) to 250 bpm. Today, most Salsa dancing are done in a range of 160 bpm to 220 bpm.
M. Modern day Salsa and mainstream
The mesmerizing hook of “Mi Gente” (my people) has managed to lure a lot of listeners with its thumping beats and the lyrics on breaking down of barriers. A collaboration between Willy William and J Balvin, this Latin craze was crooned all through the summer in Spanish. The Salsa influence song topped charts on Spotify for several weeks. Today, at least 6 of top ten international music videos in YouTube are mostly in Spanish.
Pop Salsa music today has managed to arrest its years of decline in the music industry. Its growth has outpaced many other genres in the mainstream. “Despacito” in its original Spanish version was almost everywhere in Latin America, and it hit the international scene when Justin Bieber decided to jump in and released its first hybrid version in April 2017. It soon went on to become one of the most streamed songs with almost 5 billion video and audio plays. Although Salsa / Latin music covers only 8% of the stream in America, and accounts for 2% of albums and songs sold, label companies still invest in this genre because they are more concerned about million streams than selling a million albums.
The most favorite for 2018 is “I like it” by Cardi B which features two of the most popular stars in reggaeton Bad Bunny and J Balvin. This is more of a beat where trap meets Salsa. It also reminisces about the call and response method of the old school Salsa singing. It is a sample of the boogaloo hit by Pete Rodriguez which is about half a century old. It is a pop music fusion of Caribbean and Latin.
N. The 15 best Salsa songs of all time
In an attempt to sum up over half a century of Salsa music which has become the signature of the Latin identity, here is a list of some of the best Salsa songs both in the Salsa dancing community as well as around the world. While it is near impossible to tell the entire Salsa story in just 15 tracks, this classic song collection is a guarantee that it forms an essential part of any proper Salsa music playlist.
- Hector Lavoe – “Periodico De Ayer”
“Periodico De Ayer” sums up the musical sound during the seventies of the Salsa scene in New York and manages to put a dancing spell on anyone! Other songs from this Salsa music artist which is essential to any Salsa playlist include “Mi Gente” and “El Cantante”.
- Fruko Y Sus Tesos – “El Preso”
This 1975 anthem is probably one of the most liberating when it comes to prison Salsa songs!
- La Sonora Poncena – “Fuego En El 23”
This Puerto Rican group has managed to create one of the most love crowd favorites by fusing fire truck sirens with hard Salsa music in Caliente.
- Ruben Blades and Willie Colon – “Pedro Navaja”
This evergreen song is a crossover hit which is a part of the massively groundbreaking album called Sembra. Till date, it is considered as one of the most popular choruses.
- Marc Anthony – “Vivir Mi Vida”
This hit Salsa comeback by Marc Anthony dominated the Latin Billboard Music Awards in 2014.
- Joe Arroyo – “La Rebellion”
Joe Arroyo is one of the greatest Colombian salsero, and it is marked by the Afro Latin percussion. It is punctuated by piano solo and horns. Today it is warmly remembered as the grooving protest song.
- El Gran Combo – “Sin Salsa No”
This Puerto Rican Salsa track is from 2010 and is from the band popularly known as “Salsa university”.
- Grupo Niche – “Cali Panchanguero”
Grupo Niche from Colombia offered this cool Salsa style as a tribute to their beloved home town.
- Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz – “Toro Mata”
Celia Cruz transformed from a mere Cuban Salsa music artist to the “queen of Salsa” when she signed her record deal with Fania Records. This rumbafied version with the co-founder of Fania Johnny Pacheco captures the euphoric times.
- Lalo Rodriguez – “Ven, Devorame”
Lalo Rodriguez the Puerto Rican artist seduced all romantic Salsa lovers with “Ven, Devorame”, the 1989 hit song.
- Ismael Rivera – “Las Caras”
This ode by Ismael Rivera called “my black people” reflects the socially conscious Salsa song.
- Oscar D Leon – “Lloreras”
Salsa star from Venezuela Oscar D’Leon sings this signature song by adding his unique sound rooted in Cuban.
- Victor Manuelle – “Dile a Ella”
With this song, “Dile a Ella” Victor Manuelle brought a much needed energy into the Salsa scene during the 1990s.
- Gilberto SantaRosa – “Conteo Regresivo”
Gilberto Santarosa is often referred to as the “gentleman of Salsa” by demonstrating his signature suave approach to the much loved genre for Salsa dancing.
- Fania All Stars – “Quitate Tu”
Any Salsa music playlist is not complete without a song from the wildly popular Fania All Stars. “Quitate Tu” is a revolutionary performance in 1969 at the Cheetah Club in New York.
O. Other interesting resources
- Where is Salsa dance from? And What is Salsa?
- How to ruin an amazing Salsa dance night in 4 ways, literally!
- The beauty of Salsa dance music: an unlimited adventure of a life time
- Etiquette for people dancing Salsa in the classroom and social dancing
- Rueda Salsa dancing etiquettes – 5 ways to be a nice dancer
- What is Bachata dance? How does Bachata history and music evolve?
- Bachata music – An evolution from nothing to everything